B'Shalach - Exodus - Sh'mot 13:17 -17:16
Modern, liberal Jews have a tendency to be squeamish when Torah refers to warfare, bloodshed and violence. So-called fundamentalists, Jewish or otherwise, are reputed to take comfort in passages which call for the violent end of something, or someone, found objectionable. Justice, mercy, tolerance and related values which abound in Torah tend to be glossed over by those who are filled with righteousness, if not ecstasy, over divinely ordered violence.
On the other hand, nice, liberal, modern, educated Jews tend to shrug off Torah as a bloodthirsty anachronism. Much, if not all of the text and commentary, is not worthy of study and further commentary in these supposedly rational and enlightened times. One could say that both the spiritually Neanderthal Jew and the spiritually pencil-necked Jew weaken Judaism. One weakens Judaism by making it and Torah to be a license to kill and maim; the other saps the essence of Judaism in the name of supposed irrelevancy.
There can be a better way, one that, in the words of Torah, goes "not to the left nor the right". It starts off with serious study,then taking the questions and issues posed wherever it goes. You don't need to come up with a conclusion. In fact it may spoil the fun. You just apply what happened millennia ago and apply them to what is going on today.
Take the portion that was just read. Israel engaged in its first military operation as a liberated people. They fought and defeated the Amalekites. Israel was victorious when Moses held the rod up, was losing when the rod was not held up, and finally, with help from others, the rod was held up for the duration of the battle, and Israel was in the end triumphant.
This is a tribute to trust in Adonai, but may also be shown as a commitment to fight evil in ways other than direct combat. Taking this concept another step, it can also be a commitment to fight other forms of evil. The list is long; injustice, bigotry, pollution, poverty, homelessness, hunger.
The can of food that you held up earlier is shaped like a cylinder, essentially the same shape as Moses' rod. The cylinder-shaped rod that triumphed over Pharoah's magicians, that brought water to a thirsty Israel, that helped to beat the Amalekites. Think of that moment of tension when Moses held up the rod, wavered from fatigue and was helped by others to hold it up again.
Think of that can of food that you held up for the few minutes during my chant. Think of how it will help someone who is one of thousands of Chicagoans and millions of Americans who literally wonder where their next meal will come from for them and their families.
Moses invested a lot of himself physically and spiritually in holding up the rod in his battle with evil. I trust that you invested something more than the donation of a "rod" of food in this battle against a more local form of evil. The fight against evil, through one of its principal weapons, tzedakah, also means giving something more of yourself than the writing of a check, or the drop of a can into a box. Sometimes that investment comes in direct contact with the scene of evil, as the Israelites were fighting hand-to-hand with the Amalekites, or when food is delivered directly to the hungry. Sometimes it comes from a distance, like Moses on a hilltop, with hands and rod raised, or when you have held that rod of food, and maybe thought about it feeding someone, and maybe adding a prayer while you thought about it.
The Amalekites' evil was beaten off for another day. The rods that you held up will go to the Food Pantry to fight hunger for another day. Adonai promised that the day will come when Amalek, and evil, will be blotted out forever. May that day not be far off, but until that day comes, keep your rod raised. Amen.